The ASIDESTEPS CANON – no Jaws sequels – vol. VIII

Sequels, prequels and remakes.  One of the greatest pleasures of movie obsession is seeing the films you love reimagined, seeing how different directors bring their own peccadillos to the proceedings.  Remaking movies is as old as cinema itself, so quite why the concept is so frowned upon nowadays, I have no idea.  Anyways.  These are my personal favourites (though it bears underlining that in nearly every case the original movie is superior.)  No Jaws (1975 – Steven Spielberg) sequels though because they’re all terrible.

71. Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984 – Steven Spielberg)

 

Sequel/prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg)

 

Lucas and Spielberg’s desperate attempt to make a Bond film, this film is fuelled by a healthy dose of cynicism.  The movie attempts to distil the entire history of cinema into its running time – bickering back-and-forth repartee, dance routines and casual racism included.  Here the narrative is more stationary than its predecessor, so the action sequences can seem a little more obligatory, but when they are as excruciatingly involving as the mine cart sequence, its easy enough to allow yourself to be enveloped in its dazzling momentum.

Traditionally, this was seen as the weakest entry, but Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989 – Steven Spielberg) is a more prosaic affair, only enlivened by Sean Connery’s brusque charm.  The less said about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008 – Steven Spielberg) – personally I have an affection for the episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles that features Harrison Ford – The Mystery of the Blues – which features a pretty engrossing car chase for something made on a television budget.

72. The Curse of the Cat People (1944 – Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

 

Sequel to Cat People (1942 – Jacques Tourneur)

 

The original invented much of the language of cinematic shock, all creeping tension and jump-scares.  This sequel threw much of its narrative out of the window, instead choosing to focus on the memetic memory of shared trauma.  We are haunted by the stories we’ve read and the traumas we see at a distance.  It is a creeping portraying of the swirling emotions of an adolescent girl, how puberty can force girls to explore the dangerous and rebel against the conformity they are being forced to adopt.  Primal experience provides a release from the patriarchy they are being groomed to work within.

 

73. Cat People (1982 – Paul Schrader)

 

Remake of Cat People (1942 – Jacques Tourneur)

Schrader’s remake is a fairly pedestrian attempt for most of its running time that simply repeats the shocks of the first film with more tits on display.  However, its ending, a depiction of sexual dominance and control, bound in a presentation of sado-masochism, is almost elegiac.  It speaks deeply to our deepest perversions, and the ease and willingness with which a man will revert to patterns of abuse if presented with the opportunity – all agency is removed from the woman in order to satisfy his sexual desires.

74. Spider-Man 2 (2004 – Sam Raimi)

 

Sequel to Spider-Man (2002 – Sam Raimi)

 

The first film, in my mind a heady mix of first dates and dropped popcorn, showed Raimi’s mix of volcanic action scenes and cheesy emotion.  The second film is pretty much in the same vein, but the pirouetting camera that swirls around some genuinely thrilling action sequences ensures that this is the best superhero film the world has ever seen.  Which is a bit like being the world’s most popular STD…

 

75. Rambo (2008 – Sylvester Stallone)

 

Fourth in the Rambo film series

Very much a companion piece to Rocky Balboa (2006), Rambo featured Stallone’s return to an iconic eighties role.  But this was a far more pessimistic affair, where good intentions proved fruitless and violence gave the only answer.  Stallone plays John Rambo as an empty shell – a logical conclusion of the events of the previous three entries in the series.  He is broken and hollowed out by violence.  He has little grip on compassion, and the film follows this path, refusing to present his adversaries with any inch of humanity.  It is Stallone’s greatest fantasy.

76. The Godfather Part II (1974 – Francis Ford Coppola)

 

Sequel/prequel to The Godfather (1972 – Francis Ford Coppola)

 

Which is often little more than the first response to ‘sequels that are better than the originals’.  I don’t think that’s a true statement, in the same way that no film adaptation is ‘better’ than the novel upon which it is based; they’re different emotional experiences.  First films have to establish tone and character and theme.  Sequels can take that from granted and build upon what has come before.  ‘Prestige’ long-form television relies on that function – unfortunately, miss-used, as it so often is by tv, the audience experiences a form of cinematic Stockholm Syndrome, whereby affection is given simply because they’ve spent a lot of time with the characters.  The Godfather Part II, does not engage with these facile assumptions, simply because it is determined to build on the first film; by both extended Michael Corleone’s descent into transgression, and by adding depth to a family business he was unable to escape.

77. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970 – Ted Post)

 

Sequel to Planet of the Apes (1968 – Franklin J. Schaffner)

 

Which takes a pulpy concept (a spaceman land on a post-apocalyptic Earth ruled by monkeys) and somehow makes it even pulpier, by throwing in psychic mutants who worship an atom bomb.  Developing a more fully designed world than its predecessor, Beneath the Planet of the Apes carefully withholds Charlton Heston’s manic screen presence to the final reel.  And what a final reel, where the Earth is annihilated by its god, only this god is an invention of man that he wished he could have forgotten, the nuclear bomb.  God isn’t that much different.

78. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972 – J. Lee Thompson)

 

Fourth in the Planet of the Apes series

After a more jovial third entry (Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971 – Don Taylor) – very much ‘The Voyage Home’ of the series, featuring drunk monkeys) the series had been boldly recast around simian protagonists rather than the humans.  By the seventies, the realisation was that the threat did not come from outside humanity, it came from within.  Here, as the continuity of the film series turned back upon itself, the series showed how our species would seek to dominate and oppress anything it perceived to be aa threat.  The only consequence, quite brutally depicted within the film, was violent insurrection by the oppressed.

79. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011 – Rupert Wyatt)

 

Seventh in the Planet of the Apes series and reboot

After a lacklustre final instalment (Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973 – J. Lee Thompson)) and an underwhelming, though not worthless reboot by Tim Burton in 2001, the series was once again restarted in 2001.  Technology had reached a point where CGI apes had a life to them, though they were somewhat unfairly cast opposite John Lithgow, who has made a bit of a career of upstaging apes of various forms.  Despite being an ostensible franchise kick-starter, Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes its time, creating an engaging drama that demands your attention.  The moment where Caesar speaks for the first time is genuinely shocking.  It was followed by a messy, ridiculous sequel, where Gary Oldman had a totally superfluous moment where he cried at the sight of a cynically product-placed iPad.

80. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987 – Tony Scott)

 

Sequel to Beverly Hills Cop (1984 – Martin Brest)

Eddie Murphy is one of the great screen presences, and Beverly Hills Cop best captured these charms – his defiant, inimitable disruption of the conventional white screen that Hollywood forces upon us.  The sequel built upon that by placing him within a fluorescent, hypnotically glossy world that appears now to be the epitome of the eighties that we see in our collective cultural memory.  Tony Scott brought a balletic grace to his action scenes, and ensured that they were as thrilling as they can be – it’s almost as if he realised no one would be able to act Murphy off the screen, so the only way to provide a credible threat was by presenting action scenes as genuinely threatening.  It was a bold move, and one that began to define Scott’s career.

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – b-sides vol. VI

The Canon.  One hundred films with nothing from the top 250 Sight & Sound poll.  These are the b-sides; un-canonised, free from decades of perception and discussion, but great films in their own right.  No apologies, no pretensions.

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 51. Certified Copy (2010 – Abbas Kiarostami)

 

Because truth rarely matters.

 

I live inside this movie.  I walk its streets.  I reflect on what is true and what is not.  It’s a film where you can’t help but reflect on it and parse the slightest gesture, the muttered comment.  But it exists as more than a puzzle because of the truths it speaks to.  There is a moment where an old man tries to impart all the wisdom he has gained and shows that meaning can come from the smallest movement – placing a hand on a shoulder.  Cinema is a Frankenstein medium, all art steals, but this shows the worth that comes with stealing.

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 52. The Silence of the Lambs (1991 – Jonathan Demme)

 

Because reading films is worthwhile.

It’s a gripping film, confrontational in its direct, head-on style of shooting.  But it’s a film that has been drowned in budget price impressions and reactionary readings.  It can be saved.  Clarice is implicitly queer, she has few interactions with men, when they objectify her, she resists.  She is always a little too close to her dorm-mate.  Lecter is her campy queen, he sits back and amuses himself as she navigates the heteronormative world.  A world never more evident when men do horrible things to women.

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 53. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg)

 

Because my eyes were opened.

 

I’m not thankful for parents for much… but showing me this film when I was seven years old is one of them.  I can’t express how much I loved this film, clambering over climbing frames in public parks using a rubber snake as whip.  You can keep your Star Wars (1977 – George Lucas), it was Indiana Jones for me.  And as an adult, I love it just enough, it’s action-every-ten-minutes setpieces, its wit.  And as Steven Soderbergh told us, you can turn the colour down and watch it in black-and-white and it’s just as good.

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 54. Streets of Fire (1984 – Walter Hill)

 

Because everything’s better with a Jim Steinman soundtrack.

 

Walter Hill thought that this film was the future, a post-apocalyptic urban comedy western.  Musical.  It’s a musical.  Whose songs were written by Jim Steinman and Stevie Nicks amongst others.  I spend a good few minutes each month thinking about what society would make these songs popular.  Taking the glorious neon light from 48 Hrs. (1982) and stretching to create an entire cityscape, Hill injects a romanticism into his brutal, pared-down scripts.  There is a moment where Michael Pare turns ‘round to see his love before he leaves her life… he can barely do it… every inch of him wants to stay… and he turns, and leaves.  It’s the most heart-breaking moment in cinema.  To think, Hill imagined that this was the first part of a trilogy…

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 55. Blow Out (1981 – Brian De Palma)

 

Because we all live with ghosts.

There’s an illicit thrill in De Palma’s pervy, trashy profoundly queer thrillers, but here we see him in a far more sombre mood as he details the limits of obsessiveness.  In what is one of John Travolta’s finest performances, we see his inability to escape the forces of politics and the overwhelming death drive.  Ultimately, he chooses to use his trauma as an anecdote, a resource in the cheap emptiness of his profession.  Hopelessness has never felt closer.

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 56. Legend (1985 – Ridley Scott)

 

Because some worlds are better than others.

 

Ridley Scott’s fourth film is a profound exploration of world-building.  Here the rich luxiourisouness of design and storytelling create a mise-en-scene where emotion is pure and on the surface.  There is an exhilaration to this film, as we radiate in the delight of a world quite unlike our own.  If only evil was as transparent as it was here.  There are three substantially different cuts of this movie, and unfortunately it is hard to recommend one over any of the others; each as its own strengths of score, pace and performance.

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57. Bigger than Life (1956 – Nicholas Ray)

 

Because we all see flashes of red.

 

Ray’s presentation of a fragile psyche demonstrates the limits of any individual.  Even the people we trust the most, who we invisibly rely on to maintain the decency of society – our teachers – are susceptible to poor mental health.  But this film is from the fifties, and poor mental health is not presented as anything prosaic.  Instead, it is an opulent mix of hysteria, colour and religion.  Society’s maintenance is paper-thin, it will take very little to destroy it.

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 58. California Split (1974 – Robert Altman)

 

Because it’s worth the risk.

 

With an output as prolific as his, it is often hard to navigate the waters of Robert Altman.  But California Split remains a cinematic love-letter to his profound love of acting profession.  He allows some deeply charismatic individuals to fully inhabit people, free of the responsibility of close-ups and holding attention.  It is up to us to seek them out, find them within the frame and indulge in their make believe.  I can sit on a train, and every other person is as real as I am.  There is a horror to that that we refuse to explore, but Altman was a director fully capable of capturing the significance of every soul in a frame.  A story is never complete within one of his films, only abandoned.

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 59. Days of Thunder (1990 – Tony Scott)

Because I feel the need for speed.

 

Tony Scott’s opulent, hazy mix of colour, sound and speed is a textural delight.  Every second of screen buzzes with excitement, as we piece together information in our minds from milli-seconds of image.  There are directors who spend lifetimes seeking to capture perfect images and Scott would throw them away in a moment.  And then cut to another deeply moving echo of reality.  Supported by a truly epic soundtrack that blends wailing guitars, synthesisers and arrhythmic percussion, and a script that is openly honest in its representations of ambition and belonging, it is a visual masterpiece, and speaks to something quite deep within myself.

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 60. The Innocents (1961 – Jack Clayton)

 

Because there’s nothing better than a ghost story.

A profoundly unsettling film, both for what is said and unsaid on screen.  For what is said, we get a deliberate unravelling of multiple fading cuts, inexplicable images and a wonderful central performance from Deborah Kerr, who gives her a governess a virginal certainty and sexual repression that allows us to explain her hauntings as hysteria.  For what is unsaid, we see the inextricable entwinement of sex and death, and the horror that unravels when this is directed at a child.  It is an abusive, ambiguous masterpiece.

Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues

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Bit of context for this one: in 1993 an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles aired featuring Harrison Ford reprising his most famous role.  The episode was called “The Mystery of the Blues” and I always thought it a shame that it didn’t have its own poster.

The Harrison Ford scenes are here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYIJcHBamXU and it features a pretty decent car chase for television.